By Jean A. Flanagan
“I believe this is the single biggest vote in the history of the state. It is a launchpad for the future of West Virginia.”
With his usual flair for the dramatic, Governor Jim Justice talked about the importance of the Special Election scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 7.
Justice and several members of his cabinet addressed members of the West Virginia Press Association in a conference call on Thursday, Oct. 14.
Called the Road to Prosperity Amendment of 2017, the election will decide if the state can amend the West Virginia Constitution to issue bonds for the improvement and construction of roads throughout the state. The bonds will not exceed $1.6 billion.
Early voting in the special election began on Friday, Sept. 22 and will continue through Wednesday, Oct. 4.
[private] According to Justice, the funding would create 48,000 jobs, which would add payroll taxes and increased sales taxes to the state coffers.
Justice was adamant that the bonds would not generate any new taxes. The 2017 Legislature passed several measures which already increased certain taxes to pay for the bonds. Division of Motor Vehicle fees, wholesale gas taxes and additional turnpike tolls were increased.
Tom Smith, Secretary of Transportation said work has already begun on some projects, applying funding from general obligation bonds.
“We have some resurfacing projects that we let in July,” he said. “We’ve moved ahead with some paving of secondary roads.”
Smith said his department is using National Transportation Standards to choose priorities.
In response to a question about how to determine if the 48,000 jobs will be given to West Virginians, Justice said that was difficult.
“The reality is that some will be filled by out of state people,” he said. “But they will still pay payroll taxes to West Virginia and they will be staying in our hotels, buying our gas and food, so there will be sales tax benefit.”
Justice said and Smith agreed Corridor H is “the most important road in the state.”
(see Corridor H sidebar)
Chelsea Ruby, Tourism Commissioner said roads are vital to tourism.
“We have to get our visitors to stay longer,” she said. “Increased travel translates to increased length of stay and increased tourism dollars.”
Woody Thrasher, Secretary of Commerce said the economy needs a stimulus.
“This road bond will help us complete key primary highways and open sites to development. We will reap the benefits for decades to come.”
“The net-net is if we don’t pass this bond (amendment) you and I will grow old before the roads are finished,” Justice said. “Better roads bring a better way of life.”